In New Jersey, it is permissible for a chiropractor to use the title "chiropractic physician." Immediately after chiropractic licensure in 1986, I had my first business cards printed with the title, "Dr.John L. Cerf, Chiropractic Physician." Upon reading my card, my neighbor remarked that I was not just a chiropractor, but a real doctor who also practiced chiropractic. That is where the confusion began.
My initial confusion concerned my ability to educate acquaintances as to the professionalism of chiropractors without comparing my profession to the medical profession. It was obvious to me that medical physicians did not have a monopoly on the title "doctor." Most of the doctors I encountered were not medical physicians. I grew up in a town where the pastor of the local church was Dr. Platz. My dentist was Dr. Burden. My college professors were doctors. If my confusion had gotten any worse, the psychologist I would have required would have been a doctor.
Perhaps the problem was actually one of not being considered a "real" doctor. The inference was that I was a poor imitation of a medical physician. Did the pastor and college professor also suffer the reputation of being less than a medical physician? My standard response to being called "not a real doctor," is to pinch my skin and say, "It doesn't feel like plastic." I will not write my response to the comment, "not a regular doctor," but it does involve a description of bathroom frequency.
At this point, I fear I may have stimulated the fury within both militant straights and mixers alike. Use of the word physician stimulates verbal wars concerning the role of the chiropractor as a "subluxation-reducer" as opposed to a "musculoskeletal condition specialist." While I have the floor, please let me assure you that it is not my intention to attack or promote either approach to patient care, but rather to address the questions of self-esteem that chiropractors of diverse philosophical positions have expressed to me during my 20-plus years as a chiropractor.
In my early years of practice, I would encounter people who would talk to me as if I were a multilevel marketing sales hound. Others treated me like a Nobel Prize winner. The former description was not true and the latter description was not necessary. My only desire was to have people view me as a health care practitioner who endured a doctoral education so I could help most of my patients feel better and live more active, healthy lives.
Once I began working in the hospital's emergency department (ED), most of the chiropractic-related image and self-esteem questions faded. I began to get referrals from "real" doctors. Patients came to my office declaring that they would never have considered visiting a chiropractor, but since I was on staff at a hospital, I must be good. In seven years of working in the ED, the patients and hospital staff have always treated me with respect. Once, in the hallway of the hospital, a neurologist (and a genius) was educating me about two different anti-seizure medications. He stopped in the middle of his explanation and exclaimed: "What am I saying? You are a physician. Let me explain it this way..." There is no question that the simple act of associating oneself with a hospital instantly and dramatically changes your image to most people.
Recently, my chiropractic selfesteem received an additional boost. My 17-year-old daughter, Kristen, published her first book, titled Dragonhorse: The Lost Legend, the first in a series of eight Dragonhorse books that concerns a cluster of hidden islands within the Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps one of the reasons planes have crashed and boats have sunk within the Bermuda Triangle is because a magic shroud protects the islands from technological devices that would destroy the magic that still exists on the islands. Kristen recently revealed that in her second book, King John leaves the island called Farsatan and travels to the United States to avoid involvement in a war between the islands. Just as many of us had other careers before becoming chiropractors, King John also achieves a raise in stature by becoming a chiropractor.
Soon after Kristen revealed King John's career change, I was listening to an advertisement on the radio. The announcer stated that, "Unlike going to the chiropractor 20 times, you will only have to undergo one revolutionary laser treatment to help you stop smoking." In the past, I would have been offended at the announcer ridiculing multiple treatment visits with a chiropractor. First, I would have yelled that I give many patients relief with only one visit in the ED. Then, I would have screamed at the radio about the patient I had seen in the ED who, rather than follow up in my office, decided to follow-up with a medical physician who administered a single "revolutionary" injection into his cervical spine instead of multiple chiropractic visits. That unfortunate young man died during the cervical injection procedure. I would have yelled, but I remembered the opinion I valued the most. I remembered that my daughter Kristen authored a book in which "chiropractor" was a profession worthy of a king - even without the addition of the word physician.
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